Siobhan wants to save the underwater world

Marine biologist Siobhan Heatwole at the Mars Symbioscience Mariculture facility in Takalar, Sulawesi Photo by Darren James

BEING hours from the nearest beach, Canberra isn’t the ideal location for a budding marine biologist but for Siobhan Heatwole, 30, it was never a barrier.

Luckily, her grandparents lived on the central coast of NSW and it was there, as a child, observing marine animals in their natural environment that Siobhan became drawn to a career in marine biology.

She would spend most of her days there in the water, swimming, snorkelling and later scuba diving.

Now she’s in Indonesia working as a coral reef rehabilitation adviser with Mars Symbioscience.

“I travelled to Indonesia for a scuba-diving holiday in 2005 and was captivated by the beauty of the coral reefs and marine life that I saw,” she says.

“Indonesia is a biodiversity hotspot, but a lot of the ecosystems in the region are under threat.”

Siobhan wanted to be part of a project in Indonesia that encourages marine sustainability because damage is being done to many of the coral reefs.

“I had been working as a marine researcher, studying the impacts of human disturbances on coral reefs and I thought it would be great to put some of that knowledge into practice ‘on the ground’, so when I saw the role advertised with the Australian Volunteers for International Development program, I knew immediately it was right up my alley,” she says.

“I knew that to be involved in a project that helps restore and protect that biodiversity while simultaneously helping local people to maintain a more sustainable livelihood would be very rewarding for me.”

Professionally, with a background in fish ecology, Siobhan has gained more experience in the area of corals.

One of Siobhan’s projects has been to help with the establishment of a coral nursery at Bontosua Island.

Mars Symbioscience grows corals in the nursery so that they can later harvest fragments to return to areas of the reef that need to be rehabilitated.

“Coral reefs are important and valuable ecosystems and are some of the most diverse ecosystems on earth,” she says.

“Everyone needs to take care of coral reefs, because healthy coral reefs provide shelter, food sources, spawning and nursery grounds for fishes which in turn supports the fish stocks that over a billion people rely on.

“A decline in the health of coral reefs can have severe consequences for fish stocks.

“Coral reefs also act as a natural barrier to waves and provide protection from storms, which reduces problems with coastal erosion.”

Before Siobhan went to Indonesia she was living in Taiwan, doing research in the South China Sea and before that employed by the ANU to do field research in Darwin and Panama.

But her childhood home is Canberra, where she lived with her family in Latham and then in Flynn, later on working for the public service in the Department of Industry and Science.

For Siobhan, her experience in Indonesia had meant that she has formed another family.

“I have been so completely blown away by how welcoming, inclusive, and accommodating my colleagues have been,” Siobhan says.

“We have been through some very sad and trying times together, and during these times they have looked out for me and have drawn me into their community.”

After finishing her work in Indonesia, Siobhan will have a few weeks in Australia to spend time with family and friends, and then she’s off to Taiwan again.

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